The Bloody Fists (1972)
Director: Ng See Yuen
Writers: Ng See Yuen
Starring: Chen Kuan Tai, Chen Sing and Liu Ta Chuan

The Plot: The Japanese want a special flower called dragon herb, and they will stop at nothing to obtain this mystical herb. The dragon herb is the only ingredient capable of curing a deadly plague that is sweeping the countryside, and the Japanese are looking to procure all of it. With this herb, they will be able to hold it as a valuable bargaining chip in order to get their men out of custody from the local Chinese government. Local lackey Chen Zahn has been in seclusion recently, and when he returns he brings with him a entire school of Japanese fighters. Now it seems that these Japanese fighters, who have combined Karate and Judo, will now look to take this special herb and install several gyms in the area in order to prove the inferiority of Chinese kung fu. When they hold a small tournament, they run into a local fighter who manages to make the group look quite poor. Things get progressively worse for the Japanese fighters when they run across a fugitive loner (Chen Sing), who quickly dispatches a few of their fighters. However, the Japanese are still quite powerful, and craftier when it comes to leveraging the odds to their advantage. Will the Chinese figure a way to fight back against this group of murderous foreign fighters? Or will the Japanese take all of the dragon herb and dominate China?

The Review
The more I delve into this Warner Bros. 4-movie action pack, as pictured in the cover art, the more I am continually impressed. For a DVD set that I payed roughly $4.00 USD, it has repaid its value ten fold at this point. With two great martial art films reviewed so far (Militant Eagle and The Prodigal Boxer), this set looks like a true bargain. Still, what are the chances that this third film could be of any quality? Well, knowing the odds because I just finished watching the movie, I’ll go ahead and say that chances are pretty darn good that if you liked either of the previous movies, you’re going to also like The Bloody Fists. Made in the early part of the seventies, this independent kung fu title brings together several very talented figures and essentially lets them run wild. The resulting title is a rather serious slice of martial arts bravado that dares to be as gritty and as violent as it wants to be, while also displaying a great deal of technical prowess along the way.

An opening can tell you a lot about a prospective film. Especially when it comes to a kung fu flick. In the old school kung fu market, introductory scenes were often important in setting a tone. Sometimes a film would open with a martial arts demonstration, in a attempt to show the talent of the cast members. This was most popular within the Shaw Bros. studio. However, outside of the big studio systems, where highly decorative sets (which were deemed proper backgrounds for these artists to go through their forms) were unusual, the filmmakers had to become slightly more creative in catching the attention of their audience. This lead to many films simply throwing their audience right into the midst of a fast-paced action scene. The Bloody Fists is a title that attempts to blow the mind of its audience right from the start. Featuring a car ride from hell that sees Chen Sing riding on top of this automobile before being thrown off and forced into a fist fight against the entire armed police force. After dispatching of many of his foes, Chen Sing then jumps ten feet away and is somehow transported into the desert where he begins running while the title credit “The Bloody Fists” pops up on the screen. Welcome to our movie!

Tensions between the Chinese and Japanese have been stressed for generations. Even before the horrors and atrocities committed during World War II, these two nations have had a bit of antagonism built up for one another. However, with the advent of film and the horrors of the second World War still fresh in the mind of many viewers, action cinema of the sixties and seventies were rife with anti-Japanese sentiment. Even today, a certain amount of resentment is felt for the Japanese, and if you ever expect to see Karate, Judo or Jiu-jitsu celebrated in a Hong Kong martial arts film… you’ll have to look around heavily. The Japanese, who have to be used to it by this point, are once again portrayed as wholehearted villains who only want to enslave the Chinese citizenry. However, The Bloody Fists at least looks to show this with a little bit of over-the-top sensationalism which makes it all rather odd and entertaining. The Japanese fighters presented in the film all feature highly unusual and nearly comic-book style fashions. Wearing capes and the most macho version of the “Gi” that I have ever seen, this isn’t the common stereotypical look for the nation. It is a very new and different sort of stereotype altogether. The leader of the Japanese clan, played by legendary Chen Kuan Tai in one of his earlier appearances, looks as if he were ripped directly from the panels of a comic book. With a mask over his mouth as if he were trying to avoid SARS, he comes across as both unrecognizable and fiercely intimidating.

The Bloody Fists will likely be remembered for those who were involved in its creation, even more than for its own merits as a solid piece of entertainment. Made in 1972, the film was directed by a then up-and-coming director named Ng See-yuen. This director is now best known for being the producer and co-writer of Jackie Chan’s breakout films Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, as well as being a incredibly powerful producer (No Retreat No Surrender, Once Upon a Time in China II – V and even Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster). This early title also saw one of the first pairings between Ng and Yuen Woo-ping, who served as fight choreographer on this film. Yuen Woo-ping, of course, would go on to carve a brilliant career that would see him work often within Hollywood (The Matrix series, notably), and most now see him as potentially the greatest fight choreographer of all time. Even at this early stage in his career though, Woo-ping was obviously very much ahead of the curve in terms of thinking outside of the box. He manages to give each school of martial arts a unique style throughout The Bloody Fists, and he manages to craft a very daring and brutal form of choreography here. Culminating in a twenty minute battle on the beach, the fight choreography had to be fast and gritty, which fits perfectly for a film like The Bloody Fists. Featuring numerous scenes of bloody carnage throughout, the climactic fight sequence borders on gory, and the tremendous length and athletic prowess on display makes it one of the most jaw-dropping sequences from the early part of this filmmaker’s long career.

The Conclusion
With a brilliant cast, tremendous cinematography and dazzling choreography, The Bloody Fists is a sure thing when it comes to entertainment. Similar to the previously reviewed films from this box set, it is a real shame that it hasn’t become more popular. As a legendary piece of Hong Kong film history (the film that probably helped establish the friendship that saw Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow get made), this is one that fans won’t want to miss out on. On its own merits, it is still a fantastic piece of work. I give it a four out of five! Totally worth owning.